Global Politics

Julian Assange, Wikileaks founder, discusses philosophy of censorship

Julian_Assange___CC_image_542543849.jpeg

Julian Assange speaks in this photo from 2011. Assange discussed his views on censorship recently. (Photo by an unknown photographer, via Wikimedia Commons, cc-by-sa.)

This is an interview from To The Best of our Knowledge, part of a special series on the history of Democracy. The series includes interviews with Assange, former Czech President Vaclav Havel, the woman credited as the founder of the Tea Party and many others. Various of these interviews will be featured on PRI.org in the next month. Listen to the above audio for a 4:30 minutes conversation with Assange. To hear the full, unedited interview, visit ttbook.org.

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Under house arrest in the United Kingdom, Julian Assange has had a lot of time to think.

Really, to think about anything. And now, just as Assange is set to be extradited to Sweden after his latest appeal failed — and possibly without the funds to appeal to a higher court — Assange is weighing in on censorship in general, and the philosophy behind it.

Assange was interviewed as part of To The Best of our Knowledge's series on Democracy and its history. In the interview, conducted while Assange was under house arrest, Assange discussed his view that censorship is an opportunity.

"Censorship requires work. It takes investment for governments and other organizations to censor material that has already gone out to the public or to prevent it from going out to the public in the first place," Assange explained.

It's a marker of disease, on the one hand, Assange said, as well as a marker of the health of a political system. If governments are fearful of the public learning of their activities, they're likely to censor.

But it's this reaction by the public to censored materials that presents the opportunity, he explained. By revealing information that had previously been censored, there's the potential for reform. As an example, he cites the "cartoonish" response of the American government to the release of the diplomatic cables earlier this year.

"We saw a reaction by Washington and its friends that was cartoonish... It reminded everyone of what was happening under the Soviets," he said.

But he said it also led to real reform, including, to some degree, the Arab Spring protests, which began in earnest when protesters learned of the misdeeds and malfeasance of their government officials.

Assange said the United States could see more reform if National Security Agency intercepts or Congressional emails were leaked and released. He said those things are on the long "wish list" of U.S. documents he has.

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"To the Best of Our Knowledge" is an audio magazine of ideas - two hours of smart, entertaining radio for people with curious minds. More "To the Best of Our Knowledge"